Author: Caroline
Pairings: 1x2
Rating: PG
Warnings: Fluff/sap

Home For Christmas

Heero swore as he tightened his scarf around his neck and struggled to push the car door open against the wind-driven snow. The cold bit deeply as he stepped out of the rental car, looking behind him to make sure there was no traffic getting ready to bear down upon him. He needn't have worried. He'd been the only car on the highway for miles, everyone else having better sense than to try to drive in a blizzard. But he had a promise to keep, and he didn't intend to break it, not if he could help it.

He flipped on his hazard lights and slammed the door shut. Snow whirled dizzily around him, catching the light from the headlights to shimmer in the near darkness. Heero pulled his coat tighter around him and trudged through the snow to the front passenger side. He kicked the snow and swore again at the sight of the flat tire. He checked his watch and groaned. The weather had already made him late. He realized with a sinking heart that taking the time to change the flat would more than likely make him miss his shuttle home. But he had to try. Duo was waiting for him.

He waded through the thickening snow to the trunk, popping the latch with the key ring. He had to pry the trunk open, using brute strength to break the ice build-up that had formed along the seal. He hissed as the lid flew open, catching his finger. He was grateful for the thick gloves Duo had given him before he'd left for Earth. He'd be able to work quicker without frozen or cut-up fingers.

He pulled the spare tire and tire iron out of the trunk and rooted around for the jack. A blind hatred threatened to consume him as he realized the rental car company had thought to include a spare, but no jack. Swearing loudly and slamming the trunk lid down, he almost wished he still carried a gun with him. Of course, even if he did, he'd still have to get back to the rental place... which was located at the shuttle port. If he were at the shuttle port, there'd be no reason to commit murder on the snot-nosed kid behind the counter.

He struggled back to the driver's side, prying open the door against the wind and slipping inside. He fumbled for his phone in his pack, only to find service was temporarily unavailable.

He banged his head against the steering wheel. Making it home before Christmas was not looking very possible.

He was startled by a tapping sound at his window. He looked up, eyes open wide with surprise at the sight of a figure outside waving at him. Heero rolled down the window only an inch or so, alert and cautious.

"Hey, man! You need some help?" the figure asked through the crack in the window.

Heero glanced in his rearview mirror, surprised to see a car stopped behind him, headlights beaming in through the rear window. Funny, he hadn't noticed a car approaching.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, he nodded. "Got a flat. I have a spare but no jack."

The person nodded. "Got one in my trunk. Let me get it." Heero watched the figure trudge through the snow to the back of the car behind him. It was only when the Samaritan returned with jack in hand did Heero get out of his car. He watched the other person warily, old habits dying hard. He had to consciously remind himself that the wars had been over for years and he was now a computer software designer, not a soldier.

"Think this'll do," the person - young man - said, holding up the jack. "Which tire is it?"

"Front right. I'll get the spare."

Heero slopped through the snow and grabbed the spare as the young man made his way to the flat and positioned the jack.

"Rough night to be out in," the guy remarked as he began to jack up the car high enough for Heero to remove the flat.

"Aa. Wasn't expecting this."

"Been Earthside long?" When Heero turned and raised an eyebrow at the question, the guy just shrugged. "It's the accent. I grew up on L2. Yours is kinda muddled, though. Move around a lot?"

"Something like that," Heero replied, wiping snow out of his eyes as he struggled with the last lug nut. "My partner's originally from L2. We live there most of the year now." He surprised himself by volunteering that information.

"Oh yeah? Which part?"

Heero glanced at the young man. And young he was. Perhaps it was the light, or lack of it, but the kid looked barely old enough to drive, let alone be out by himself on a night like this. A lock of blond hair peeked out from under the red toboggan, brushing against a faint scar along his jaw.

"Aren't you a little young to be out on a night like this?" Heero asked, avoiding the question. He might no longer be a soldier, but it would take a very long time indeed to get past his training and instinctual distrust of strangers.

The kid laughed. "I get it. No personal questions." He helped Heero pull the flat tire off as the last lug nut came loose. "I lived on the streets for a while. I know how it is. And I'm older than I look."

Heero grunted, deciding it was none of his business what the kid was doing out in the middle of nowhere in the driving snow, alone.

Together they wrestled the spare tire in place and tightened the lug nuts. The kid removed the jack and stood. "Hopefully that'll get you where you're going."

"Thank you," Heero said, fighting his instincts and holding out his hand. The kid reached out and shook it.

"No problem! Just want you to get home safely. Christmas is no time to be away from the ones you love."

Heero nodded. "Unfortunately I've probably already missed my flight."

"Never know. Miracles do happen." The kid stepped back toward his car. "Be careful out there!"

"You, too," Heero replied, turning back to his car.

The kid laughed. "Too late for me, I'm afraid. Have a safe journey... Heero!"

Heero paused as he opened the door to his car, turning his face away from the kid as a gust of wind threw snow at his face. He raised his hand to the level of his eyes and turned to look back at the kid. But he was gone and so was his car. There was nothing but dark road behind him and he wondered how the kid could have driven away without him noticing. Deciding he was more tired and stressed than he thought and wanting to get out of the bitterly cold wind, Heero slid into the car.

It was only as he was pulling back onto the highway did he realize he'd never told the kid his name.

+

The shuttle port was a madhouse. Harried holiday travelers pushed past each other, looking either tired and worn or generally irritable. Heero hurried to the check-in desk after giving the guy behind the rental car desk a stern, albeit brief, tongue-lashing about the car not being equipped with a jack. The man apologized and tried to offer Heero a voucher for a free rental next time he was Earthside, but Heero didn't want to take the time to wait for it.

Unfortunately, he seemed to have used up his Christmas miracle with the kid, as the lady at the check-in desk informed him that not only had he missed his own fight, but the next flight out was booked solid. The earliest she could get him a seat would be late the next evening - Christmas Eve. With flight time between the Earth and L2 being twenty-six hours, Christmas would be over by the time he made it home.

With a heavy heart, he booked the flight, then left to find a phone to call Duo and give him the bad news.

The seats in the terminal were each equipped with their own vid screen. Heero dug into his bag for his phone card, keyed up their home number and tried to work out in his head exactly what he was going to say to his lover about missing Christmas.

"Heero!" Duo's wide eyes blinked owlishly at him from the other end of the line. "I wasn't expecting to hear from you again until you got home." He saw Duo glance toward the clock next to their vid phone. "Shouldn't you have left already?"

"I missed my flight. There was a snow storm, came in faster than expected. Then I got a flat tire on the way to the 'port and the stupid rental car didn't have a jack and I couldn't get a signal on the phone and..." The words came out in a rush. Heero dreaded having to tell his lover that he was going to miss their first official Christmas together since they'd been legally married.

"Heero, love, slow down." Duo smiled at him and Heero took a deep breath. "So you'll just catch the next shuttle. I'm just glad you're safe and not stuck in a snow bank somewhere, freezing."

Heero sighed. "Me too. But all the flights are booked. I'm on standby, but they didn't have much hope of a spot opening up. The earliest I can fly out will be tomorrow night."

"Oh." Duo looked down. Heero ached to be able to hold him at that moment. He'd been away from home far too long.

"I'm so sorry Duo. I know I'd promised to be there for Christmas..."

Duo looked back up at him and gave him a reassuring smile. He placed his hand on the vid monitor. "Don't worry about it, Heero. You tried. So you'll be here later than expected. There will be other Christmases."

"But this is our first..."

"It won't be our last. That's one promise I know we can keep."

Heero reached up and placed his hand over Duo's on the screen. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Heero. Just get home safely. I'll be here."

"I'll call you if I manage to get on an earlier flight."

"Okay. I'll see you soon."

They said their good-byes and Heero disconnected the call. He sighed and slumped in his seat. He and Duo had been married nine months. It had been a tumultuous courtship, but in the end, they had realized neither could live without the other and never wanted to be apart. Much to the relief of their friends, they'd bitten the bullet and gotten married.

So why, Heero wondered to himself, if they had decided to never be apart, had he spent the five weeks on Earth, away from his lover, husband and best friend?

After the wars, Heero had wandered for a while, just needing space and time to be alone to catch his breath and try to learn to live without the constant stress of preparing for battle. He'd joined Preventers briefly, not knowing what else to do. It was at one of Quatre's reunions -- where he'd been reunited with Duo -- that he realized he had other talents and could contribute to society in other ways. With Duo's encouragement, he quit Preventers and began designing security software. After a successful marketing campaign to Preventers itself, Heero's business took off and he became highly sought after by companies looking to increase their security.

It was during this time of his initial success that he and Duo had realized they wanted to be more than just friends, and their relationship began. It had its rocky moments, especially in the beginning as neither one had ever really lived with another person as an adult. But the good times outnumbered the bad, and together they worked through their problems and couldn't imagine life without each other.

Heero's business was extremely successful by the time they married, and he had toyed with the idea of hiring some help, but hadn't yet gotten around to it. Then, just before Thanksgiving, two major corporations hired him to replace their security software before the Christmas rush. Duo had been disappointed that Heero was going to miss their first Thanksgiving together, but he understood Heero's job and had driven him to the shuttle port and let him go with a kiss and a pumpkin spice bar to eat on the shuttle.

He hadn't seen his lover since.

The jobs were big ones, and took longer than he had anticipated to redo their security software. But with some careful planning, time management and a little bit of overtime, he had been overjoyed to realize he would be home for Christmas.

Duo had been ecstatic, too. Heero blushed as he remembered their 'conversation' over the phone that night. He blushed even harder when Duo had told him he'd recorded Heero's end of the 'conversation' for future playback.

But now it looked as though he'd be missing Christmas with Duo altogether. And while he knew they could celebrate whenever he arrived home... it just didn't feel the same.

He sighed and leaned his head against the back of the chair, closing his eyes.

"If you fall asleep like that, you'll get a crick in your neck, sonny."

Heero opened his eyes and sat up straighter, squirming in his seat as he realized someone had managed to sit down next to him without him knowing.

"I was just resting my eyes," he replied to the older gentleman next to him. He had thinning gray hair and a kindly face, with one green eye and one blue; he smiled at Heero as he shrugged out of his threadbare but well-taken-care-of coat. His smile put Heero at ease. It reminded him of someone...

The man stretched his feet out in front of him and settled back with a sigh. "I hate these long waits," he said, drawing a worn-looking book of crossword puzzles out from an inside pocket of his coat. "But with all the snow, I didn't want to risk the chance of getting stuck on the road somewhere."

Heero snorted. "Already did that once today. Missed my flight."

"Oh. I'm sorry. Is that the reason for the long face? Can't get a new flight?"

"Something like that. The next available flight to L2 is tomorrow night," Heero replied, amazed he was opening up to this stranger. But something about him put him at ease.

"L2, huh? Spent some time there when I was younger. Going there myself for Christmas this year."

"Have family there?" Had Duo been there, he would have demanded to know what kind of pod person had taken over Heero's body. Heero never asked questions of strangers if he did not have to.

The older man laughed and pulled the neck of his sweater down so Heero could see the white square of a priest's collar beneath. "Not family, no. But people I care for." He adjusted his sweater. "How about you? You have someone special waiting for you?" He nodded at Heero's wedding ring. "Wife? Kids?"

"Spouse, yes. They were disappointed to learn I'd missed my flight. I had promised them to be home for our first Christmas together." He sighed. "I hate that I couldn't keep my promise to them."

"You must love him very much." When Heero looked at him sharply, the old man just laughed. "You were playing the pronoun game."

Heero squirmed in his seat. His and Duo's marriage was still considered unconventional and even illegal in some parts of the EarthSphere. He also didn't have much experience dealing with clergy, especially on this matter.

The gentleman waved his hand, shooing away his concern. "I'm not going to judge you, young man. I'm NeoCatholic. Our view are somewhat more... liberal than other denominations. You love each other and you're married. No sin there as far as I'm concerned."

Heero blinked, surprised. He's always had the notion that members of the clergy had been against relationships like the one he shared with Duo. It was ... pleasantly surprising to be proved wrong.

"Thank you." He raised one hand to rub the back of his neck. "His name is Duo. We've been married less than a year. And I really wanted to spend our first Christmas together with him. He loves this time of year, and I wanted to share it with him."

"Was he upset that you wouldn't be home in time for Christmas?"

Heero shrugged. "He was sad, but not upset. He's understanding." He twisted his wedding ring around his finger. "I don't deserve him, really."

"I'm sure he feels the same about you," the old man said. He set his crossword book down and dug into his bag. "Tell you what, sonny. I'm just on my way to visit a friend. I'm retired and really in no rush to get where I'm going. I'm on the next flight out to L2. I want you to take my seat and I'll take your later flight."

Heero blinked at the ticket being held out to him. "I... I couldn't..."

"Now, now. It's Christmas. Don't you know you can't say no to a priest on Christmas?" He smiled and shushed Heero as he was about to speak again. "You have family waiting for you. I don't. I have a whole book of crossword puzzles to keep me busy. You get home to your Duo and spend Christmas together."

Heero stared at the man, overwhelmed by his generosity. He knew he should refuse the offer, but he desperately wanted to get home to Duo in time for Christmas. "Are... are you sure?"

"Of course I am. Here, take this and give me yours." Heero dug around in his pack and pulled out his confirmation number. He exchanged it for the ticket, still not quite believing his good fortune.

"I don't know how to thank you."

"Just treat that husband of yours right."

Heero smiled. "You don't need to worry about that." He took a deep breath and laughed a little. "I guess I don't need to ask if you believe in miracles."

The man smiled again and Heero was again left with a sense of déjà vu. "Miracles happen when you least expect them, sonny." A voice over the loudspeaker announced the beginning of pre-boarding for the next flight to L2. "Guess you'd better get going. Have a wonderful Christmas, sonny."

"You too. And thank you," he said earnestly, hefting his bag as he stood. He clutched the ticket in his hand as he headed in the direction of the pre-boarding area. He stopped abruptly as he realized he never got the man's name. Perhaps he and Duo could look him up after Christmas to thank him. He turned back, but his question died on his lips as the seat the priest had been sitting in was empty.

He looked around but could not find him. Sighing in disappointment, he turned back to the pre-boarding area. He thought about finding a phone to let Duo know he was on his way home after all, but decided instead to surprise him. He could bring his own little piece of Christmas magic to the one he loved.

+

The shuttle was crowded, but like all of the newer shuttlecraft, there was ample space to move. Heero found himself sitting next to a blonde woman perhaps ten years older than himself. They were in the short row, so it was just the two of them. She smiled at him nervously as the shuttle was pulled out onto the tarmac for lift off.

"I hate this part," she said, clutching at the armrests so hard Heero was afraid she might rip them off.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," he replied. "The crew and pilot have done this hundreds of times."

"Yes, but I haven't." The main engines were activated and the woman gasped softly. She made the sign of the cross, something he'd seen Duo do on occasion. It made him smile and he offered to let her hold his hand during lift off.

She smiled gratefully and Heero found it strange to have another person's hand in his own... another person who wasn't Duo that is.

Lift off went smoothly and the woman thanked him when they settled into a breakaway orbit. Unless something went wrong, they wouldn't even notice the rest of the flight.

The cabin lights were dimmed an hour later and Heero reclined in his chair, trying to sleep. The events of the past few weeks, especially the last few hours, caught up with him and he was asleep before he knew it.

How long he slept, he didn't know. When he awoke, the lights were still dim, but people were stirring. The young woman in the seat next to him was gone, probably in one of the social cabins where passengers could mingle and get a drink on the longer space flights. He stretched and yawned and flipped on the little light on his watch. He was surprised to learn he had slept for nine hours.

He stood up and stretched the kinks out of his body, grabbed his bathroom kit from his carry-on and headed for the washroom. When he returned, the woman was back in her seat. She smiled at him as he resumed his spot and handed him a wrapped sandwich.

"You slept through dinner and I didn't have the heart to wake you," she said as he took the sandwich.

"Thank you," Heero replied, touched at the woman's thoughtfulness. Duo was right about this time of year. People did seem more friendly around Christmas.

"You're welcome." The woman pulled her bag out from under her seat and rummaged around inside. "So... Going home or going away for Christmas?"

"Going home," Heero said around his sandwich. Ham and Swiss with just a hint of spicy mustard. His favorite. "Been away on business. It'll be good to get back home."

"Been away long?"

"About five weeks."

The woman whistled. "That's a long time. You're married, right?" she asked, looking at his wedding ring.

Heero nodded. "Less than a year. This is our first Christmas together. Or will be if I ever get there."

"Newlywed, eh? I'd be anxious to get back home, too. Especially if I had someone like you waiting for me." She winked at him and he blushed. She laughed a little. "Oh, never mind me. I'm just an old spinster. I tend to let my mouth run in front of my brain."

Heero smiled back at her. "It's all right. I just... don't hear things like that, much."

"Really? Could have fooled me." She let him eat for a few moments before asking, "So what's he like?"

Heero choked on the sandwich. The woman pounded on his back and handed him a bottle of water. Heero opened the cap and took a long drink. When the coughing subsided, he asked, "How did you know?"

"No offense... but you kind of give off a... 'vibe.'"

"I do?" He blinked and took a long, hard look at himself. He couldn't really see it. He wondered if others could.

The woman shrugged. "No biggie. Besides, you didn't even give me a courtesy look up and down when you sat down next to me."

"What if I was really in love with my wife?" Heero asked, trying to process the direction the conversation was going in.

"Even the happiest married man will still give another woman a cursory look. You didn't." She grinned at him. "All the good ones are either gay or married. And you're both! Such a shame."

"I'm... sure you'll meet someone someday," Heero said, starting to feel uncomfortable. He must really be loosening up if he was only just starting to feel uncomfortable talking to a woman whose name he didn't even know.

She waved her hand. "Not for me, really. I have another calling." She resumed digging in her bag. "I had a book in here somewhere. I hope I didn't leave it... ah!"

Several gaily wrapped presents fell out of her bag and onto the floor. Heero bent down to help retrieve them.

"Oh! Thanks... I'm so not organized, as you can probably tell. All the ribbons will be squished before I can get them where I'm going."

"That's why I didn't bother with a ribbon," Heero said, handing her the last box. "I barely got the thing wrapped. I had to ask the hotel maid for help."

"Oooh, I bet it's a special gift, being your first Christmas together and all."

"I think he'll like it. He's been hinting for it enough the past couple of months, so I..." A sick feeling of dread crept over him. He could see the little gift, wrapped in brightly colored paper courtesy of the friendly hotel housekeeper... sitting in the back seat of the rental car. He quickly pulled his carry-on out and dug through it, swallowing a lump in his throat as he realized that he didn't have Duo's gift. He knew it wasn't in his suitcase.

He was so screwed.

Closing his eyes, he slumped in his seat.

"Something wrong?" the woman asked, concerned.

"I just realized I left his present in the rental car," he moaned, wondering why the Fates or God or Whoever were being unnecessarily cruel to him.

"Oh no! I'm so sorry." She looked at him for a moment before pulling one of the pretty little boxes out of her bag. "Here. You can't show up at home at Christmas without a gift. Take this."

Heero's eyes widened and he shook his head. "I couldn't possibly..."

The woman pushed the gift into his hand. "Yes, you can. Don't worry. These are extras. It's just a little trinket, a little cross on a chain, but it's pretty and he might like it. And I'm sure he'll be even happier that you're home instead of stuck on Earth without him."

"He will be, but..."

"No buts." The woman crossed her arms and looked at him firmly. "Just take it. Tell him it's just a temporary present, until you can get him something else."

Heero thought about the phone conversation he'd had with Duo after his lover had gotten home shopping for Heero's gift and the delighted sparkle in his eyes as he described how excited he'd been to have a gift under the tree. He didn't want to show up without something for Duo in return, even if it wasn't what he'd originally planned to give.

"Thank you," he said, tucking the box away carefully. "I really don't know what to say."

"It's nothing! Trust me." She zipped her bag back up and shoved it under the seat. "I can't find my book, so I think I'll just head back to the social lounge for a little while. Care to join me?"

Heero shook his head. "I've got a little work I need to do here."

"All right. But if you get lonely or need someone to talk to, just come find me. See you in a little while."

Heero watched as she disappeared into the next cabin. He brought the box back out and slipped off the ribbon. The lid lifted easily and he looked inside.

The cross was beautiful. He'd half been expecting some cheap little bauble, but he was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't. It looked old, not an antique, but a style that might have been popular twenty, thirty years ago. It was not expensive, but it wasn't cheap-looking either. Heero knew Duo had once had a religious background, and Heero thought he would like the cross, for sentiment's sake if nothing else.

He replaced the lid and the ribbon and put it carefully into his bag. He took out his laptop and connected it to the shuttle's communications network. A very short, very stern phone call to the rental company at the shuttle port later, and Duo's gift had been found in the back seat of the car he'd returned earlier. With a promise of a three-day courier service to L2, compliments of the rental company for his trouble with his car, Heero would still be able to give his gift to Duo... if a little late. In the meantime, the cross would do.

He got quite a bit of work done during the flight. His seat mate stayed gone for several hours, and Heero hoped she was enjoying herself. He knew he was not a great conversationalist. He finished up in time for breakfast to be served, then settled back to sleep some more.

When he awoke the second time, the woman was curled up in her seat, snoozing under a blanket. Heero climbed over her carefully to stretch his legs and visit the wash room again. He stopped in at the social lounge, but left quickly after one drink. He didn't like to interact with groups of people he didn't know... at least, not without Duo around.

Another meal was served about three hours before docking. Heero picked at it, not feeling very hungry. It was evening on L2 and he hoped to make it home before midnight, in order to keep his promise.

The woman chatted on and off with him for the remainder of the flight, and Heero found he surprisingly didn't mind. When it came time to dock with the colony, even though docking was much smoother than take off, he let the woman hold his hand again. When they were safely docked and given the clear to release their safety harnesses, Heero was up out of his seat in a flash. He was nearly home.

He felt a hand on his shoulder as he was hefting his carry-on out of the overhead. "Merry Christmas, Heero."

Heero tried to turn around to tell the woman good-bye, but the crush of people trying to get off the shuttle pushed him forward. He slipped into an alcove in the next section to turn around and look for her, but she was gone. He thought about asking one of the flight attendants about her, but realized he didn't even know her name. Strange though, how she knew his when he couldn't remember telling her.

He kept an eye out for her as he made his way through customs, but when he was free, his suitcase collected and his passport stamped, he had only one goal in mind.

Get home to Duo before midnight.

Fortune smiled upon him again as he caught the first taxi upon exiting the 'port. He looked at his watched anxiously as the taxi made its way through the brightly-lit streets, houses shining festively in the dark, bedecked with little colored lights. And as they turned onto his street and saw how Duo had their house lit up with festive, twinkling lights, as if beckoning him home, Heero decided that he really did love this time of the year.

He paid the cab driver and opened the door to his home softly. He didn't want to wake Duo if he were asleep. It was enough that he'd made it home before Christmas. He would be there when Duo woke up in the morning. The house was mostly dark. Heero set his suitcase down and hung his coat on the hook by the door. A warm, cheery glow seeped out from underneath the door to the living room, where Duo had wanted to set up the Christmas tree. He opened it slowly, his eyes widening in wonder at the tableau before him.

The tree had been set up in front of the window. Hundreds of little white lights twinkled from between the branches. Heero noticed there weren't too many ornaments hanging from the limbs. Duo had probably been trying to be frugal. He'd have to rectify that next year.

A fire was in the process of dying out in the fireplace; red-orange embers giving the room its warm glow. And on the couch, under the blanket from their bed, lay Duo. Asleep, he looked so young still. As if he were a child who'd fallen asleep waiting for Santa Claus to appear. Heero hesitated to wake him, but the urge to take his lover into his arms after such a long time apart was too much. He crossed the room and knelt beside the sleeping figure on the couch.

He smoothed away a lock of hair from Duo's face, bending down to brush his lips against his lover's.

Duo stirred and opened his eyes. "Heero?"

Heero smiled and leaned down to kiss him again, this one lasting quite a bit longer. When he finally pulled away, he brushed his fingers through Duo's hair and said, "I promised you I'd be here before Christmas."

Duo blinked at him. "Am I dreaming?"

Heero laughed. "I hope not. After what I went through to get here."

Duo smiled and sat up a little, flinging himself forward into Heero's arms. "Oh, god. I'm so glad you're home!" He then pulled Heero onto the couch with him and proceeded to give him a proper welcome home.

Some time and two cups of hot chocolate later found Duo curled up against Heero as his husband told him the story of his journey home, and the kindness of the strangers he'd met.

"So my present won't be here for a couple of days yet?" Duo asked with a pretend pout on his face. "Guess I'll just have to find something else to unwrap then," he said with a grin, letting his fingers wander.

Heero leaned in and kissed his forehead. "I'm sorry about that. But I do have something for you. And since it's after midnight and officially Christmas, would you like to open it now?"

Duo nodded emphatically, eyes gleaming with excitement. Heero laughed and went to his bag to retrieve the box the woman on the shuttle had given to him. "It's nothing special," he told Duo as he handed him the box. "But the lady who gave it to me said I shouldn't come home to you on our first Christmas empty-handed."

Duo rolled his eyes as he pulled off the ribbon. "It doesn't matter, Heero, you know that. You being here for Christmas was gift enough. You didn't... have... to..." His words trailed away as he pulled the lid of the box off and shook the little cross into his hand. Heero heard him suck in his breath as a tear slipped down the young man's cheek.

"Duo?"

"Where did you get this?" his lover breathed, his hand clutching the little cross hard.

"I... the lady on the shuttle. She told me to give it to you." Heero bit his lip. "What's wrong?"

Duo shook his head, wiping at his eyes with the back of one hand. "I... I'd almost forgotten what it looked like. This... this looks exactly like the cross Sister Helen wore. She never took it off. It wasn't around her neck when I... when she died. I looked for it, but there was too much debris. I thought it was lost." He looked up at Heero and smiled. "Thank you."

Heero shook his head. "I didn't know... are you sure it's okay?"

Duo nodded. "It is. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like, and that makes me sad because somehow it feels like I'm forgetting her. And I don't want to. Not ever."

"You won't," Heero replied, wrapping his arms around him. "I'll remind you."

Duo smiled and let the cross dangle from its chain. "My own little Christmas miracle. Funny, I thought I was too old and too jaded to believe in them. But here you are and here this is..."

Heero sighed into Duo's hair. "The priest was right. Miracles do happen when you least expect them."

He felt Duo stiffen in his arms. "Priest?"

"Didn't I tell you? The man who let me have his seat on the shuttle was a priest. You would have liked him. He called me 'sonny.'"

Duo gasped softly. "What did he look like?"

"Older. Thinning gray hair. Smiled a lot." Heero blinked. "Reminded me of your smile, come to think of it. And he had different colored eyes. One green and..."

"And one blue," Duo whispered. Tears were now streaming liberally down his face. "Father Maxwell... he used to call me 'sonny.'" He looked up at Heero. "And the guy who helped you change your tire? The one you said knew your name?"

Heero caught Duo's hand in his own, not really understanding what was going on. "He... looked like a kid, actually. Said he was older than he looked. He was all bundled up, but he had blond hair and a scar on his face."

"Like this?" Duo reached up and traced a line down his jaw.

"Yes. How did you know?"

Duo laughed out loud, though the tears kept coming. "Solo got a scar like that after he fell off an old fire escape. He always said he was older than he looked, too." He brushed his thumb over the front of the cross in his hand. "Sister Helen was pretty. She had blonde hair that curled a bit at the ends. And I remember she had her initials engraved on the back of her cross..."

Heero reached over and took the cross from his lover's hands. He turned it over and stared at the ornate, engraved letters on the back. "H.M.St.J."

"Helen Marie St. John," Duo whispered.

The two of them stared at each other for a long, long time before Heero drew his lover back into his arms and leaned back into the cushions. "They must have loved you very much, Duo," Heero said, after a while.

"And I think they would have loved you, too," Duo said, holding Heero close. He rubbed the pad of his thumb over the cross he clutched in his hand. "Thank you," he whispered, and Heero knew Duo wasn't talking to him.

It was the first Christmas of many they spent in each other's arms.

The End

[back to Caroline's fic]